Despite their frequent influence on our lives, we often overlook servicepeople, even to the point of assuming they're uneducated and unable to hold a "real" job. Wrong, according to Lori Hernandez, who waits tables five days a week at Huey's downtown and Midtown. It's why Hernandez decided to make her first documentary, What Are We Waiting For?.
The documentary, set to be released by December, profiles several local servers who do their job because they love it. Whether they're students, graduates, parents, or artists working to support themselves, the film's subjects all share valuable insight into why they enjoy their work and think it deserves more respect.
"It's not a job that looks like it requires much, so people assume that servers aren't so smart," Hernandez says. "But it requires quite a lot, especially to be successful. A good personality is a huge issue. Many people have been waiting tables throughout their time in college and stay with it because they love it. It should be a respectable job. [Servers] are able to be happy and do what they want as an artist or a filmmaker or whatever they love."
By making this documentary, Hernandez is doing just that. After graduating from Munford High School, Hernandez earned a degree in communications from the University of Memphis. All the while she was waiting tables, a job that she increasingly learned to love.
"You kind of get into the business and get stuck there and never leave it," Hernandez says. "The restaurant industry is a small community. The friendships are huge. I've worked at Huey's for about four years, and it's like a family. The connections I've made are great."
But Hernandez had another passion: documentary films. Married and with a 6-year-old son, Hernandez views this project as a chance to combine her interests, so she decided to take the leap.
Hernandez hired Jon Fuess, a local filmmaker she'd met during her days working at Young Avenue Deli, as her director of photography. She recruited fellow Huey's server Tara Jaynes to help her research the service industry and write the narration. Soon she had lined up interviews with past and present servicepeople across Memphis. "I knew that I'd be able to network with the restaurant industry because I've worked across Memphis and know a lot of people in the business," Hernandez says. The documentary also features interviews with the president of the National Waiters Association and with the author of Waiting: True Confessions of a Waitress.
In addition to interviews, What Are We Waiting For? features behind-the-scenes footage of servicepeople in action. "I wanted to give an accurate depiction of what the restaurant industry is like," Hernandez says. "It has its hazards of working until 3 in the morning, but there are more pros than cons. It's interesting to see what goes on."
The documentary's music is by Memphis-based musicians, including Ben Nichols of Lucero, Augustine, and Noise Choir. On June 7th, these bands and others played at a benefit at Young Avenue Deli to raise funds for the documentary's production. More than 150 local waiters and waitresses attended to support the cause.
Also in attendance was Lee Harris, Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, who spoke in favor of raising the current $2.13-an-hour minimum wage that waiters earn in addition to tips. Harris also spoke in favor of reinstating TennCare coverage for restaurant employees, who often have no medical coverage. "The idea of getting connected with someone with the same values was great," Hernandez says of Harris. "His platform really correlates with the film."
Regardless of whether Hernandez is able to change the political climate with this documentary, she is pleased with its impact on her life.
"Flexibility is a big deal to me," Hernandez says. "I'm a mom, and being able to be with my son and still make what I'd make in a 40-hour-a-week job is great. I'll probably continue waiting tables and making documentaries."